The Caribbean Netherlands consist of a number of islands and islets: Bonaire, Saba & Saint-Eustatius being the populated ones.
Most of the 200 species of birds that have been officially recorded for Bonaire, with a few notable exceptions, are affiliated with xerophytic and thorny scrub and cactus wilderness type vegetation. Exceptions are the water-dominated habitats: coastlines, inland saltwater lakes (salinas); and mangrove marshes that harbour many species of egrets, herons, and other species of marsh and shorebirds. Exceptional birding can be expected if the island is under the influence of a heavier than normal year of rainfall (average, 22 inches); when freshwater impoundments can attract many rare and unusual migrants from both North and South America.
Woodland specialties dominate the northern half of the island where scrub-covered and wooded hills form the 3800ha (8300 acre) Washington/Slagbaai National Park (small entrance fee required). This area forms the centre of the nesting range of the endangered Yellow-shouldered Parrot Amazona barbadensis rothschildi (estimated populations, January 2002, around 400); which is often confused with Caribbean or Brown-throated Parakeet Aratinga pertinax xanthogenius. Look for the mourning dove-sized parakeets, with similar-sized elongated tail feathers, brilliant orange-yellow faces and heads, and the Yellow-shouldered Parrots that are the size of rock doves, with similar short tails, and the same green colour on both upper and lower body with small amounts of yellow on the sides of the face, and on bend of the wing.
Other notables of the woodlands, which are also often found around the hotels and residential yards, are Bananaquit Coereba flaveola; very Colorful orioles of two species, Troupial (Icterus icterus); which is orange and black, and Yellow oriole Icterus nigrogularis. Tropical Mockingbird Mimus gilvus and the very common Black-faced Grassquits Tiaris bicolor abound. One site where your chances of success at finding White-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus cayennensis is almost 100% is Microwave Hill which overlooks the village of Rincon, in the northern section of the island. Bring a flashlight, and here, after dark, the nightjars come in to feed on moths that are attracted to the 4 street lamps, and often can be seen perched on the fence that borders the microwave tower. Otherwise, driving along dirt roads after dark may reveal these secretive goat-suckers, with fiery-red glowing eye-shine.
Away from the developed parts of the islands are such stealthy species as Smooth Flycatcher Sublegatus modestus; Caribbean Elaenia Elaenia martinica; Brown-crested Flycatcher Myiarchus tyrannulus; Pearly-eyed Thrashers Margarops fuscatus and larger and more conspicuous birds like the Crested Caracara Polyborus plancus in thecactus hillsides, Ospreys Pandion haliaetus along the coasts throughout the island, and Bonaire's signature bird, the Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus rubber which can be seen both north and south. Caribbean Grackle Quiscalus lugubris can easily be found nesting in a large ficus tree in front of the Antillean Rice Company, and it is interesting to note that they have a limited distribution here in the southern Caribbean and ours probably are from the Venezuelan coastal area, and appear to be increasing here, also, these grackles actually have a pleasant call unlike most grackle species.
You will find five species of doves and pigeons, six, if you count rock dove, here on Bonaire. Most of them are of limited geographical distribution, which makes them sought-after species for most intense birders. Very large and all dark is the Red-necked or Scaly-naped Pigeon, Columba squamosa which should be easily seen as you drive through the countryside, and is only found in the Greater and Lesser Antilles islands. A bit smaller with conspicuous white wing patch is the Bare-eyed Pigeon Columba corensis; which is only found on the arid Caribbean islands along the Colombian and Venezuelan coasts. A bit smaller and appearing most like mourning dove from North America is the Eared Dove, Zenaida auriculata; however, eared dove does not have elongated central tail-feathers and white corners, but equal length tail-feathers and cinnamon-colored corners. It is found in South America and the southern Caribbean islands, and the southernmost Lesser Antilles, but absent from the Greater Antilles and Central America, where it is replaced by Zenaida Dove Zenaida aurita.
About the same size and more of a forest dweller, and found in Central and South America, but missing from the West Indies, is the White-tipped Dove Leptotila verreauxi. Our smallest, and probably the most common bird on Bonaire is Common Ground Dove Columbigallina passerina; which is sparrow sized with an attractive, scaly-patterned throat, and has a wide geographical range throughout the tropical regions of the Caribbean and Central and South America.
The southern end is the driest section of the island and consists of the salt works and a breeding preserve of 55ha (120 acres) established for the flamingos whose numbers can vary from a few thousand to near twenty thousand, depending on several variables. Also along the southern coasts and inland where water accumulates, can be found many species of waders and shorebirds, such as both colour morphs, normal and white, of Reddish Egret Egretta rufescens; Tricolored Herons Egretta tricolor; Green Heron Butorides virescens; Great Egret Ardea alba; Snowy Egret, Egretta thula and Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias. Also many of the smaller shorebirds, both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, dowitchers, sandpipers, plovers, including the rare Collared Plover Charadrius collaris from South America, are here in winter or on migration.
In the mangrove marshes along the eastern coast, one can find many of the previously mentioned water dwelling birds and roosting Magnificent Frigatebirds Fregata magnificens; and Brown Pelicans Pelecanus occidentalis; neither of which nest on Bonaire. Also, it is the most likely site for both species of night herons, and Little Blue Heron Egretta caerulea. This is the area to scrutinize carefully, especially around dawn for many rare migrants that use the mangrove marsh for feeding and resting.
Other special phenomena that birders should be aware of are the migration seasons, April/May for the spring migrants going north from their wintering grounds in South America, and the fall, September/October, when migrants are leaving their breeding grounds in North America on their way through the Caribbean to their wintering locals. During the spring, the eastern deciduous forest birds, come through Bonaire in their breeding colours, especially the males, and add excitement to days afield when local birds are complemented by these Colorful visitors. It is interesting to note that almost all the breeding warblers of north-eastern United States have been recorded here on Bonaire, and a complete list of sightings during a migratory season reads like a Who's Who of birds from eastern North America. In summer 2002, a very astute birder from National Audubon Society, discovered and photographed the first record of Western Tanager for the southern Caribbean, while birding on Bonaire. So, like birding anywhere along migration paths, one never knows what will show up, and Bonaire offers many surprises for visitors who mistakenly think that Bonaire is only for scuba divers.
Sadly our contributor, Jerry Ligon, passed away (September 2015 - RIP)
Jerry Ligon (Deceased)
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 190
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The Birds of the West Indies
By Herbert Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith & Janis Raffaele
Helm Field Guides Sept 2003 Paperback RRP ?16.99p
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Birds of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire
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176 pages | 70 colour plates | 5 colour photos | 4 colour maps | Softcover | A & C Black | 2012
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2014 [02 February] - Ben & Nelly de Kruijff - Bonaire
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Saba Conservation Foundation
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